The write kind of love: A World War II love story
By JoMARIE GRINKIEWICZ (a.k.a. April Star)
I spent the better part of last night reading through love letters dating back to 1938 written by my parents. My mom was 16; my dad was 18. Two young people who found one another through writing.
My mom had written an article about war, and it was printed in The Milwaukee Journal on July 16, 1938. My dad, who lived in Arkansas, had gone for a Sunday walk and bought a Denver Post. There, while paging through the paper, he came across a page that had photos of young girls and the articles they wrote on the topic of war.
Both my parents have told me their story of "how they met" many times, and I never tire from hearing it. My dad, after staring at the picture of my mother for a while, took the paper and showed it to his mother saying, "You see this girl? I'm going to marry her one day."
My grandmother told him, "Son, you better stay indoors for a bit. I think you've gotten far too much sun."
My dad, with paper in hand, wrote to my mother. She received countless letters from readers but only responded to one - my dad's. And so began their courtship. What was to follow was eight years of writing to one another and falling in love through their words from their hearts.
Soon after the first letter was written and mailed, my dad was off to war. Mom graduated from high school (she went to her prom with her brother, wanting to stay true to a new love she hadn't even met) and, after graduation, she was off to Milwaukee State Teacher's College.
The letters spoke of dreams and desires, lifetime aspirations, and news from both their worlds. The letters my mom received from my dad from Australia, New Guinea, and other parts of the world, were all censored by the Army.
It was truly an eye opening experience to read and discover this most private part of my parents' lives. To see and witness how they fell in love, to read about their fears and to envision my mother, as a young teen girl, wondering whether or not she would ever meet this young man. She spoke about her life in Milwaukee, her long hours of helping her parents in their family-owned grocery and butcher shop.
She talked about her siblings and how she had to care for them while attending school, studying, and helping in the store. She expressed her sadness in how the war was keeping her and my dad apart, and she spoke about how much she would cherish every single moment she had with him once the war ended.
My dad spoke of his experiences of war, his feelings of love, and how much my mother's letters helped him to make it through each war-torn day.
Once, several months had passed since my mother had received a letter, she wrote of her worries for my dad and how her mind had a tendency to think the worst. Soon, the much-awaited response arrived. My dad had come down with malaria while in New Guinea and was literally at death's door.
He wrote to my mom telling her how he had prayed, "Lord, please don't let me die before seeing and meeting the woman I love."
His prayers, of course, were heard and answered. They both spoke of their desired future together as husband and wife and the perfect family consisting of two children - a son and a daughter.
I read the Western Union my mom received April 28, 1945 at 3:30 p.m. from my dad: "Darling leaving Harrison Monday noon, arrive Milwaukee Tuesday about 5:30 p.m. by bus. Will call from Chicago. All my love."
A month after their first meeting, and eight years after their written relationship, they married. They did make many of their dreams come true. They had the perfect family (with a few extra children than planned) four boys and a girl. Seems my dad had to wait until son No. 3 before child No. 4 was the birth of his little girl.
To read these letters was to see my parents in roles other than "parents." I saw them as young lovers, I saw how they helped one another through the difficult times, and I saw the real power of the written word. I saw how words were intended to be used - as an expression of one's heart, mind and soul. I understood how and why I have the morals and values I do and why I have such deep convictions about love, loyalty and trust. I understood better where my own passion for writing stemmed from - it was truly in my blood, and I understand where my respect for the written word came from.
This past May my parents celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary. They still tenderly care for one another - my dad, with his artistic God-given talent, still designs and composes his own greeting for my mother, filled with messages of his love for her. The penmanship may be a bit more illegible from my dad's shaking tremerous hands, but his sentiments from the heart have only deepened.
They now live together in a retirement home in Port Charlotte. And still, every time I visit, I ask, "Tell me the story of how you two met." They know I know it by heart; they also know I never tire of it and love to hear them speak of it with the sincerity and laughter in their voices.
I think of the men who are now in the Iraq war. I think of the women they left behind and how much the times have changed since my parents love story. Now, with the age of technology, there are letters of love being sent via the Internet in e-mails and instant greetings. It's nice, I'm sure, for those involved to receive these. But nothing can compare to the old-fashioned love of a hand-written love letter sent through the mail. The anticipation, the smiles as you hold and smell the envelope, the joy as you gently, with love, tear the envelope open, the tears as you read and run your fingers across the words written by your love.
My mom (far right) at the age of 16. This is the newspaper and photo that caught my dad’s eye
Causes April Star Supports
St. Jude Research Center